A different Salento: Ugento

cripta del crocefisso

There is a Salento that is other than sea and beaches. A Salento to be enjoyed not only during the warmer months, but in every season on the coast as well as inland, the most captivating and charming area , where traditions are alive and their treasures most of the time hidden. The discovery of this different Salento can start with a trip “underground”, in the crypts scattered throughout the countryside. We visited one in Ugento, called “del Crocifisso”, with an exceptional guide: the archaeologist Paolo Schiavano, the director of the Nuovo Museo Archeologico di Ugento.

You can access the crypt by a steep staircase, although the original access was once placed in front of the altar. Going down the stairs a Holy family dating back to the seventeenth century , is visible from the front. What immediately catches the attention is the ceiling, decorated by shields with crosses, monstrous figures, animals such as fishes, geese, birds, bulls, porcupines and griffins, branches with needle-like leaves from which sprout clovers and eight and sixteen petals roses, red and black stars at six and eight points. Various are theories about these unusual decorations, the affiliation Teutonic order, excluded in favor of the thesis of the replication of wooden “tecta depicta”, wooden artefacts of medieval Gothic churches symbolizing vices and virtues.

In fact, explains Dr. Schiavano, the church was originally a columbarium of private clients, intended to contain the ashes of the deceased, that only later played the role of an important pilgrimage destination and a place of prayer for the entire area. Do not forget that close to these ancient monuments passed the Traiana Sallentina, route of Roman origin that, over the centuries, was one of the most popular religious itineraries.

This is also through the frescoes dating back to fifteenth and sixteenth century, with inscriptions in Greek and Latin, which often represent the saint in a prominent position and in the lower small praying figures, who are identified as the clients of entire cycles. Among these is a St. Michael the Archangel depicted with wings and having the appearance of the Byzantine dignitary, with a long and decorated loros, a scarf sometimes 5 meters long which used to wrap the body. Below, a small woman in a prayerful position. Another imposing figure that of St. Nicholas, represented with the usual Byzantine episcopal robes and blessing as in the Greek tradition, like the Christ Pantocrator. Gentle is the painting of the Virgin Eleusa, the natural love of a mother for her child is shining , regardless of her divine nature, while a second Virgin with child, the Odegitria, is painted in a more austere way , with imation on the chiton and a veil covering her head. Above the modern era altar is painted the Crucifix of seventeenth-century finish from which the crypt takes its name : at the side of Christ there are the two thieves and at the foot Mary Magdalene and St. John the Baptist.After the visit to the crypt, we recommend a visit to the Archaeological Museum in the center of Ugento, located in the convent of Santa Maria della Pietà dei Frati Minori Osservanti and built by the counts Orsini-Del Balzo in 1455. The archaeological treasures here kept on two levels are Messapian finds and small terracotta statues, votive objects from the Hellenistic period, allocated in the seven rooms of the first floor. Downstairs the tomb of the Athlete and Attic vases. The statue of Zeus, a bronze masterpieces dating to the Magna Graecia period, really stands out.

Cripta del Crocifisso
Info and booking of guided tours: Tel. +39 0833.555819 – +39 0833.554843 Mob. +39 329.3915527

Museo Archeologico di Ugento
Largo Sant’Antonio 1
Info: +39 0833 5548437 – studioarcheo@libero.it www.visitaugento.it
Opening time: every day 10,00am -12,00; 5,00 pm -9 pm Ticket: 3 euros

(Traduzione di Monia Saponaro)